RFU acts quickly to appease disgruntled clubs

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The Independent Online
Rugby UnionThe Rugby Football Union yesterday moved expeditiously to remove the real cause of the breakdown in its relationship with its First Division clubs: the RFU executive's desire to postpone English entry in European club competition until the season after next.

As a result of the first meeting of the RFU commission on professionalism in Richmond, the clubs have been assured that they can, after all, join in next season. European rugby and the revenue they fondly hope it will generate are seen as critical to their ability to embrace professionalism.

However, the waters were further muddied yesterday when Bernard Lapasset, the French federation president, asked France's representatives - Begles, Castres and Toulouse - in this season's prototype tournament to withdraw on the grounds that revenues were to be distributed directly to the clubs and not to national unions, which sounds like a good reason for them to stay in.

In England, Twickenham's refusal to sanction involvement this season so irked clubs such as Leicester, Bath and Wasps, who wanted to go ahead immediately, that any further prevarication could have a terminal effect on club-union relations. Moreover, English participation is crucial if the competition is to attract worthwhile sponsorship and television backing.

For now it is restricted to one Romanian, two Italian, three French and three Welsh clubs and three Irish provinces. The first matches, Farul Constanta v Toulouse and Milan v Leinster, are scheduled for 31 October, with the final on 7 January, at Cardiff Arms Park if Cardiff, Pontypridd or Swansea qualify. The Scots are committed to join next season whatever the RFU may decree, though there are opposing views about whether districts or clubs will fill the allocated places.

On Tuesday the English First Division clubs announced that they had had a unanimous vote of no confidence in the RFU commission, the ostensible reason being the union's failure to consult them as promised. They also said they wanted nothing to do with the RFU commission and intended forming their own company to conduct separate, and quite possibly rival, commercial negotiations.

Yesterday Richard Mawditt, the Bath chairman, who had been personally appointed by the RFU president, Bill Bishop, agreed to continue in an individual capacity and after the meeting the RFU put out a statement aimed at smoothing the clubs' ruffled feathers.

Tony Hallett, RFU secretary and commission chairman, repeated Tuesday's emollient assurance that the League One clubs were "a key group", adding that their representatives would be invited to attend within the next week. More pertinently, he directly addressed the clubs' concerns about Europe.

"The RFU is committed to the concept of European competition, and is currently looking at structural arrangements that are in the best interests of English rugby. On the assumption that these are concluded satisfactorily, and adequate financial arrangements are in place, English teams will be in a position to participate in a European competition in the 1996-97 season."

n Terenure College, the new club of the Ireland flanker David Corkery, have lodged a complaint with the Irish Rugby Union after Corkery was allegedly butted and verbally abused by the Old Crescent coach, Jed O'Dwyer, while leaving the field after Saturday's All-Ireland League Second Division fixture in Dublin.